Can family members not named in a will still be beneficiaries in a wrongful death claim?

Yes, West Virginia Code §55-7-6 specifies that surviving family members including a spouse, children, brothers, sisters, and parents and any other person who was dependent on the decedent may be beneficiaries of wrongful death claims. A judge or jury may specify in which proportions to distribute the damages from a wrongful death claim to these parties.

If there aren't any such survivors, then damages are distributed in accordance with the will. If there are problems with the will, then it may become contested.

Reasons a Will Might Be Contested

Even with the best intentions in mind, when someone drafts a will it could still end up being challenged by family. Although there are many reasons this can happen, some are more common.

Wills are contested most often for these three reasons:

  • State laws surrounding signing of will weren’t followed. In West Virginia there must be two witnesses. The individual drafting the will (testator) must sign it in front of those witnesses, and they must also sign the will.
  • Fraud or forgery. When the signature on a will is forged or it was signed fraudulently, family may fight it. It could be that the testator believed that what he/she was signing was another document other than the will.
  • Undue influence. Another issue that can arise is when someone is physically and/or mentally incapable of making sound decisions regarding a legal issue, such as a will. Someone else might take advantage of that situation and influence the individual to sign the will.

These are just some examples of when a will might be contested. To better understand your rights and those of other family members in a wrongful death claim, seek legal advice from a local attorney in Clarksburg. Call the Miley Legal Group at 304-931-4088 to schedule your free consultation.

Tim Miley
Injury Lawyer, Author, & Owner of The Miley Legal Group